14 Signs a Phony Barista Is Making Your Coffee

Callie Richmond

You're making coffee totally wrong. But don't worry, so are some of the professionals!

Despite what their pretensions would lead you to believe, not every barista knows what they're doing. So, to figure out how to tell a champ from a chump, we asked a group of experienced coffee servers to share the signs that a coffee professional is anything but. If you see a barista do any of these things, you're free to send a condescending glance right back at them.

vanilla flavor
Callie Richmond

They ask if you want a flavor

A professional barista will smile kindly if you ask for a pumpkin latte, but they will never offer one.

They offer you roast levels

If they're talking in terms of dark, medium, or light roasts, they're stuck in the stone age as far as coffee geeks are concerned.

They're not using a grinder

Shops pay exorbitant amounts of money for grinders, because all-in-one machines just don't perform on the same level. If a barista is using a one-button system, they either don't know their stuff or don't care.

They remake your espresso shot (again)

Sometimes machines go wonky and need to be recalibrated, but if your barista messes up your shot more than once, it isn't a sign of connoisseurship, it's that he doesn't know what he's doing.

iced coffee
Callie Richmond

They serve iced coffee that isn't cold brew

A cardinal coffee sin is brewing coffee normally, chilling it down, and then calling it iced coffee. If you ask how they make the iced coffee and that is the answer, you're talking to a coffee cashier, not a barista.

Their equipment isn't clean

A dirty espresso machine says a lot about the establishment and just as much about the barista. That steam wand should be getting wiped down before and after each drink, and if there's grime all over the machine, you're not in a place with much pride.

They look like they're from the distant past

That vest and handlebar moustache might mean they're focusing much more on their looks than their coffee.

They take forever to make an espresso shot

For most machines the sweet spot is 20-30 seconds. Some fancier machines can be up to a minute, but if it feels like your shot is taking a long time, that's a bad sign.

They treat the espresso machine like garbage

Flushing the espresso machine only takes a quick push of a button. Whether the barista clears the water before pulling your shot of espresso is an easy way to tell if they actually care about one of the more important tools of the trade.

Callie Richmond

They use a thermometer

You know that little metal cup they use to steam the milk? Metal conducts heat, so a barista will know by touch when the milk is hot enough. A thermometer implies the barista doesn't have enough of a feel to tell when their hand is burning.

They spoon out foam for your latte

Milk and foam should flow smoothly out of that little metal cup. If the barista is using any type of tool to scoop out foam or keep it in, they don't know how to properly steam milk.

They aren't watching their espresso shot

A serious barista will be paying attention to a lot of variables in order to adjust for the best possible shot. If they're not paying attention to the espresso as it comes out of the machine, they're not focused on quality.

Their milk-steaming makes a ton of noise

You should hear a few crackles, but if it sounds like a steam engine, the barista is probably putting too much air into the milk and it's going to turn out a foamy mess.

They tell you a million facts about the coffee

Newbies will view every customer as an audience at which to spout every coffee fact they know, whereas a pro is more interested in being friendly and giving the customer what they want.

Dan Gentile is a staff writer on Thrillist's National Food and Drink team. He prefers the term poser to phony, but it's mainly because he skateboarded as a teenager. Follow him to a really torn up Element deck at @Dannosphere.